Problem: Luke’s version of the first beatitude states “Blessed are you poor.” While Matthew’s account says “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” Luke appears to be speaking about poverty in a financial sense and Matthew about poverty in a spiritual sense.
Solution: Some believe that the difference in renditions could be because these are two different occasions. They point to the fact that Matthew says it was given to a multitude including His disciples (Matt. 5:1), while Luke’s version was given to His disciples (Luke 6:20). Also, in Matthew, Jesus spoke on a hill (5:1) while in Luke He spoke on level ground (6:17). Then too, Luke’s account is much more brief than Matthew’s. (But see “Solution” to Luke 6:17.)
Others, however, note that both sermons were given at the same time, in the same geographical area, to the same group of people, with many of the exact same sayings. In both accounts His sermon was preceded by special healings, and followed by His going to Capernaum. Furthermore, although Luke introduces the sermon by saying Jesus “lifted up His eyes toward His disciples,” like Matthew, he notes that Jesus gave “all His sayings in the hearing of the people” (Luke 7:1; cf. Matt. 5:1). All of this makes it unlikely that two different events are represented.
The difference in the accounts can be accounted for in several ways. First, Luke’s account is much more brief than Matthew’s. Second, Jesus may have said much more on this occasion than either writer recorded. So each writer is selecting from a larger body of material that which suited their theme. Third, Luke places a different emphasis on Jesus’ words, stressing the significance for those who were poor. Matthew does not exclude financial poverty but speaks of that poverty of spirit which the poor often have as opposed to the rich (cf. Luke 16; 1 Tim. 6:17).
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This excerpt is from When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1992). © 2014 Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Click here to purchase this book.